Traffic Jammin’ with Janis Mara – Driving with High Beams, New License Plates, Prius or Civic?, Expensive Gas in CA + MORE

October 19, 2015 14:00 pm · 28 comments

Traffic Jammin’ with Janis Mara – Every Monday at 2pm on

TRAFFIC JAMMER: Greetings, all! This column is for everyone who negotiates the highways and public transit of the Bay Area. It runs every Monday at 2pm and answers your commuting and transportation questions.

Email your questions to

COMMUTER: Is driving on well-lit roads with high beams on a ticketable offense?  This seems to be epidemic these days, whether in town or on the freeway. Flashing my own high beams at them to let them know almost never seems to get their attention. It seems as though these people figure they can see better with them on, and screw everyone else around them, who is now temporarily blind.

–Blinded By The Light

TRAFFIC JAMMER: Yes, it is a ticketable offense, and as you observed, Blinded, it’s not only annoying but dangerous. When the driver approaches an oncoming vehicle within 500 feet, he “shall use a distribution of light or composite beam so aimed that the glaring rays are not projected into the eyes of the oncoming driver,” according to California’s Vehicle Code section 24409(a).

Also, if you’re following within 300 feet to the rear, “you must use the lowermost distribution of light specified in this article,” according to Section (b), which translates to: Switch to your low beams! Good question, Blinded.

COMMUTER: This has perplexed me for years. I am aware that when cars are registered in California from out-of-state, they are issued new car license plates, perhaps of a similar series as a car purchased here. But is the opposite also true? I have seen late model vehicles with license plates from California from a much earlier era, such as gold on blue, even gold on black. What is the regulation of issuance of license plates?

–Curious in Claycord

TRAFFIC JAMMER: Special Traffic Jammin’ Kudos to CIC, whose question revealed a fact hitherto unencountered by the Jammer, namely: You can order a gold-on-black 1960s license plate replica for your car from the Department of Motor Vehicles. Who knew?

It costs $50 to apply and other fees are involved. To learn more about it, visit

COMMUTER: Why is gas so much more expensive in California? I’m ready to buy a Prius.

–Slammed on gas prices

TRAFFIC JAMMER: There are two important points here, SOGP. First, you can get good gas mileage without having to shell out the Prius MSRP of $24,200 and up. Yes, the Prius will get you 51 mpg city and 48 highway. But you can save a whole lotta gas and spend around $6,000 less right off the bat with, say, a Honda Civic, which gives 31 mpg city and 41 highway, and costs from $18,290. Emissions-wise, the Civic is low.

As for why gas is more expensive in California: Consumer advocates, oil associations and academics agree the problem is supply and demand. California’s refineries are stretched to capacity, so any additional stress on the system drives supply down, and hence, prices go up.

But consumer watchdogs — and many individuals — say the oil companies manipulate supplies to make them run low and use refinery downtime as an excuse to jack prices up unduly high. Not surprisingly, oil industry representatives disagree.

Though experts agree that supply and demand is the primary issue, other factors enter in as well, from the state’s cleaner-burning gasoline to refiners’ rising margins.

TRAFFIC JAMMER: That’s it for this week – see you next Monday. Be sure to cruise by at 2pm for more traffic intelligence. Remember, whether you drive, walk, bike or hop Amtrak, BART or AC Transit, Traffic Jammer Janis Mara is here to answer your questions.

Send your questions to

Mac October 19, 2015 at 2:09 PM

There is a sports car that drives down Walnut Blvd a few minutes before 6 each day with his bright lights on daily. I stopped flashing mine at him, because he just continues on his way, with the bright lights on….

Officer Barbrady October 19, 2015 at 2:26 PM

Briefly flashing lights at someone approaching you to signal to them that their high beams are blinding you is fine, but never, never blind them back in retribution because all you have is two blinded rivers approaching each other. Fairly often the person driving with high beams on and ignoring signals is a drunk.

MrDioji October 19, 2015 at 2:31 PM

California also pays higher state gas tax. But I’d venture to say that other states’ gas taxes are too low, rather than that CA’s are too high.

Anon October 19, 2015 at 2:34 PM

I’m going to buy some special headlights – they have a standard low beam and 100 watt High beam. Flash them back for their ignorance and disrespect.

TIFOKCIS October 19, 2015 at 2:44 PM


Screw karma.


Your life must be incredible.


Or get a better job.

Legacy October 19, 2015 at 2:49 PM

I have a set of the 60’s legacy plates (Black/Gold) on a newer vehicle. The cost is $50.00 to order and $40.00 to renew every year. You can order them from DMV on line. If you ordered personalized plates you have to pick them up from a DMV office, sequential numbered plates will be sent to you via mail in about 4-6 weeks with a new registration card and sticker.

Nick October 19, 2015 at 3:03 PM

The headlight issue is commonly with people who have customized their cars headlights to use HID bulbs, rather than standard Halogen bulbs. If they do not swap out the reflectors inside the headlight housings with HID compatible reflectors you get very bright headlights that spew light up higher than a normal headlight does. I was told by the cops that this was illegal and I have since switched mine back to normal halogen bulbs. Most luxury vehicles, Audi, BMW, Lexus, etc have had these HID bulbs for a long time with the correct reflectors, but on lower end and older cars that have been retrofited with HID not from factory its illegal.

ClayDen October 19, 2015 at 3:23 PM

Rather than a Prius or a Civic, you could get a Mazda 3 that gets 30/41 (automatic) or 29/41 (manual), starts at $17,845 and is more fun to drive.

Zoom Zoom!

LC October 19, 2015 at 3:25 PM

I notice a lot of folks these days don’t have their headlights aimed properly – hence they appear to be high beams. Frustrating to say the least… but at least they have headlights on! I see more and more cars on the road with no headlights/taillights on at night. I blame illuminated dashes for that! So Bad!!!

@TIF.... October 19, 2015 at 3:28 PM

And you’re contributing how?

Cowellian October 19, 2015 at 3:35 PM

California politicians require a boutique gasoline that is not used in any other state. Of course you pay more for it.

TeacherMan October 19, 2015 at 3:36 PM

Not local, but a sad story. Flashing your hi beams can get you shot. A story just making the news of a 17 y.o. boy who flashed a cop because he thought the cops hi beams were on. The cop pulled him over, dragged him out, tazed him and then shot him 7 times (cop claimed self defense). The cop admitted he knew his lights were out of adjustment (which begs the question why maintainence didn’t fix it). So be careful, with all the road rage incidences, you never know how someone will respond.

HighBeam October 19, 2015 at 3:51 PM

Many of those vehicles with blinding headlights are full size pickup trucks whose lights are a couple of feet higher than a normal car. And they likely have their low beams on too.

no handle October 19, 2015 at 4:21 PM

What I want to know is when did the human eyeball upgrade itself to be able to adjust itself to the headlights in use today? Back when I started driving everyone used simple sealed beam headlights that had the yellowish output. Now all new vehicles have lights that simply blind you and leave you with flashbulb spots that take a minute to go away.

Jerk October 19, 2015 at 4:26 PM

Most people will be buying USED which is a Way better deal for a vehicle.
And regarding the fear mongering about batteries. You can purchase individual cells (which usually it’s only one cell that goes bad) instead of the whole battery.

thx4youropinion October 19, 2015 at 4:38 PM

@#14 — Isn’t that the truth! Now they even have these blue-hued lights that are a PITA as well

@TeacherMan October 19, 2015 at 5:03 PM

Thanks for leaving out the inconvenient facts that the video showed the kid was non-compliant, then attacked the officer (even after being taxed), causing some pretty serious injuries.

Go ahead and try to buy one cell for a Prius battery pack and replace it yourself. Let us know how that works out for you.

Carguy October 19, 2015 at 5:31 PM

Another option to a Civic is a used or new VW TDI. These vehicles hold up better than the Civic in an accident, and 40mpg city/50+mpg highway is the norm, depending on year and model. When monitoring you driving, you can achieve 84mpg as the couple did, below:

@@jerk October 19, 2015 at 5:33 PM

The battery modules are easy to replace on the Prius if you have basic mechanical skills and common sense. YouTube has many videos on this subject.

Nick October 19, 2015 at 6:27 PM

As another Nick has mentioned, many people are putting HID bulbs into halogen reflector housings. The reflector has a focal point that’s designed around the lighting element in the halogen bulb, so by putting an HID bulb in, your lighting pattern is not even correct (not focused). If you compare the beam pattern from a proper HID setup (normally using HID projectors), you’ll notice that it has a wide, and relatively uniform beam. The HID in reflector setup tend to have bright, near-field hot-spots, which defeats your distance vision (which is what you need at higher speeds). HID is up to 3X brighter than halogen, so even though halogen reflectors have no cut-off, the amount of light above the hot-spots aren’t as bright for a halogen bulb as an HID bulb. The wrong beam pattern with no cut-off means just throwing HID in halogen reflectors will cause a lot of glare (if not blinding) light to other drivers.

I think many people also don’t know how to properly adjust the leveling of their headlights. There are now more and more vehicles with headlights that light up the whole roof of my sedan (and not just from tall vehicles like trucks/SUVs). I have to shift my mirror, otherwise it’s too blinding.

Some people also confuse color temperature with brightness. The higher the color temperature, the bluer the light is (shifting toward the ultraviolet end of the spectrum), meaning the higher color temperature you go, the less visible light there is for you to see with. I personally find these bluish HID lights quite annoying (or the blue tinted halogen bulbs).

Captain Bebops October 19, 2015 at 7:42 PM

I saw the all time texting driver thing the other day. In this case the driver was on a bicycle, hands completely off the handlebars and intently texting away seeming paying no attention to where he was going. At least he was in the bicycle lane.

Jerk October 19, 2015 at 9:28 PM

#19, Thank You! Unfortunately Common Sense is no longer common, at least not among all of the TV watchers here.

Retired LEO October 19, 2015 at 9:52 PM

@teacherman #12….

Please provide the links to this story.

TeacherMan October 19, 2015 at 10:48 PM
Mr. J October 19, 2015 at 11:19 PM

Perhaps Car Guy hasn’t heard that new TDI’s can’t legally be sold and the future of used TDI’s are uncertain. Just a little illegal software modification to circumvent emissions testing requirements. Any fix will likely reduce mileage and performance.

Hubby Jo October 19, 2015 at 11:42 PM

Re: “throwback” license plates… First, California became one of the few states to outlaw any replicas of their license plates made by private enterprise for car collectors, etc. to be sold or shipped here. Then it became illegal to manufacture, sell, or purchase replica California plates, period. The state wanted to get in on the business for themselves. The DMV website proposed to re-make the 1956 plate(black on yellow), the yellow-on-black, and the yellow-on-blue plates if there was enough interest in each. Only the yellow on black got enough pre-orders, so that’s it.

That said, personalized plate owners keep their plates as long as they continue to pay the yearly fee for them, and can re-assign them to new vehicles. That is why you see a few vintage plates on newer cars. If it is a non-personalized 123 ABC format yellow-on-blue plate on, say, a car that is less than about 30 years old, I would suspect something fishy if I were a cop.

Pandora HD October 20, 2015 at 7:57 AM

Wow…of all the other selfish acts on the roadways, texting to be specific and speeding. Quoted from commuter “and screw everyone else around them”. This current administration has proliferated that moto. I have a pen. I have a phone. I, I, I,…. me, me, me. No better way to set an example of selfishness.

Whine about gas, MOVE out of CA will easily resolves that.

License plates… really? The focus should be on the lazy drivers that do NOT have a license plate but DEALER TAGS FOR YEARS.

Raynond333 October 21, 2015 at 11:57 AM

i noticed that the skill of drivers has gone wayside parents that drop there kids off that do not understand the rules of the DMV i am making a u turn at the slowest light in concord “”””””CLAYCORD AND CLAYTON “””””a joke on all of us that live near it .. recently some programmer felt like he wanted to make a change .. and now makes everyone wait way to long as traffic stacks up blocking 1 lane in the rush hour The pedestrian button for the cross walk isn’t working so i guess some one will have to die first before anything is done ….

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